Panic attack

Remember to breathe from your abdomen. It takes time to make that natural. Shallow breathing is normal, but it tells the brain that things are in crisis mode.

Get 8 hours of sleep.

Eat more fiber and no processed sugar. Natural fruit is fine, just don’t go overboard on it.

Go for a walk.

Stretch. Yoga is helpful.

Don’t watch or read the news.

Make art.

Connect with God through prayer.

The panic attacks are physical. They are not “real”. They feel real because you are in your body and you feel them. You can learn to observe them and see them as a sign that you are going off track. Refer to the list above. What is being neglected? Do that.

I have to do all these things every day to feel human.


Poem – kin/kind

Just because someone is kin to you
doesn’t mean anything.

Kinship without kindness
requires no fealty.

If your brother, mother, father
show you “love” couched in
threats, shame, or guilt
then walk away.

Love that hurts isn’t love.

There is nothing
about the accident of birth
that guarantees

There is nothing about
being a sister
that fosters

If kin are not kind
then “family” is an empty word.

Walk away.

You owe them nothing.

If they treat you
as an accident,
an embarrassment

then that is their loss.
It is not a reflection
of your worth
but of their blindness.

Set a high price for yourself.
even if your “family”
says you are worthless.

Or perhaps even because of it.

If the family you were born into
does not treat you as a friend
but ignores, belittles, embarrasses you

Walk away.

You owe them nothing.

Bullies can be brothers.
Rapists can be relatives.
Murderers can be mothers.

There is no “normal”.
There is no “average”.

There is only you, right now.
If your “normal”
feels wrong
feels unhealthy
feels strange

Walk away.

You can create
a new family
from friends
who know how
to love
the beautiful person
that you are.

The Black Hole of Crazy

Sometimes I feel the best thing I can do is just to not get drawn into other people’s black holes of crazy. Crazy/angry/upset people have an energy about them that is like its own gravity. It is easy to get swept up and swept away. It is easy to get lost.

I remember a time when a manager was arguing with me over the best way to handle a bad situation. The program that we used at work had gone down and there was a way to check people out in the meantime. It was the way I’d been trained, and it worked, and I’d used it for over a decade. It turns out there was another way to do it that had been policy for years. She wanted me to learn it right then. Right in the middle of a bad situation is not the time to learn a new procedure. It is a great time to stick with a known good.

She got very upset with me that I refused to try the new procedure right then. Part of her anger came from the fact that my boss should have taught us this, and she can’t stand my boss. Part of her anger came from the fact that she is supposed to be in charge and she really isn’t. You can be a manager in name only.

I was getting drawn into her anger and her argument. I was feeling that anger, that tension. This used to be common for me. I’d get that deer in the headlights look when someone would argue or yell, and lose myself in the mix.

I hate feeling like that. I’ve prayed about it, I’ve read books on nonviolent conflict resolution, and I’ve studied yoga. But it is hard to be objective about what is going on when you are sucked into it.

Until I did.

Somehow at that moment I was able to step outside of my feelings and observe them. I didn’t like how I felt. I didn’t like having an argument about something that didn’t need to be argued about right then. Or ever, really. There is very little in life that needs to be yelled. Building on fire? Yell. Policy change? Don’t yell. Easy.

In the middle of that getting-worse situation, I looked at her and said “we aren’t arguing about this right now.”

And somehow, we weren’t. It stopped. The black hole of crazy lost all of its power. It stopped sucking, in more ways than one. The situation got handled and it was OK.

I was stunned. I was surprised that I was able to be objective in that crazy moment. I was surprised that simply saying that we weren’t going to argue meant that we didn’t.

And I’m thankful for this new learning, that it takes two to argue. By my intentional action, peace happened. By my presence and calm, the issue was fixed.

Peace can start within, with one person.

It took a long time for me to get to the space where I could be objective about my feelings and then act accordingly. It took a long time to get where my feelings weren’t driving the bus. It took a long time to get where my “monkey mind” wasn’t winning. I’m glad to know it is possible. It takes a lot of practice to keep this awareness going, but I see the results. Calm me means calm people around me. My awareness is healing.

I want more of this. I want more people to be aware of this. If we are all aware of the tricks our minds and bodies play on us, then we are all going to do a lot better. We don’t have to get drawn into the black hole of crazy that comes from other people, or from within.

By staying calm, we keep the peace.

Peace (cat in a tree)

I want to be a peacemaker. I want to take conflict resolution classes. I want to help people understand each other. I want to wake people up to their potential. I want to show them how to prevent problems.

My spiritual director says I need to focus inward. She says I need to take care of myself first. I guess this I kind of like when you are on an airplane and the pressure drops. You have to make sure your oxygen mask is on first before you help out the people around you. I guess it is like being a first responder. If you aren’t in shape, how can you rescue someone else?

This makes sense yet it also sounds backwards. There are already too many people who are totally self centered and selfish. There are already too many people who are unaware and unawake. To turn my desire to help others around onto myself seems like regression.

But perhaps the middle way is best. It would mean that I am balanced and grounded. It would mean that I can help others and not be depleted. If you overextend you may fall. Just like if you are rescuing a kitten from a tree, if you reach out too far, go past your balance point, you’ll fall to the ground.

Then, there is the idea that the kitten needs to learn how to get her own dang self down.

If you keep rescuing the kitten, she’ll keep needing to be rescued. Maybe there is something useful there in that thought.

Nobody rescued me. Nobody stood around and cheered me on to start getting healthy in body and soul. Nobody figured out how I could carve out time and money to go to the Y. Perhaps there is something in letting people figure out how to get there on their own.

Maybe there is something to being OK with the idea that they may never get there. Maybe there is something about being OK with where they are right now.

I just hate listening to the yowling of that stuck cat.

I want it to stop climbing up that tree. It has climbed up that same tree for years and it keeps getting stuck. I want it to pick a different tree or figure this one out. Or stay away from trees entirely.

I’ve got my own trees to wrestle with. I want to help, but I don’t want to rescue. But I also don’t want to feel like saying “I told you so”.

Get your way (get out of your way)

There was a mom who came in the library recently. She picked out a bunch of books with her young son and then came up to the front desk to get a library card. Then she found out that because she lives in a different county she would have to pay a $50 annual fee to use this library.

She handled it perfectly. Some people get indignant. Some will shout “This is a free public library!” This is illogical. The books have to be paid for somehow. They don’t magically appear. Some think they are being clever and ask if they can use their relative’s address in this county. Or they ask to use the address on their license, which they have already admitted isn’t where they live.

Don’t try to get me to help you lie. It isn’t going to work. I’m not going to get fired for something stupid. I’m ok with bending some rules, but not the ones that I totally agree with. This one I agree with. You get what you pay for. Library funding in this state comes out of property taxes. You have to provide proof of current address to get a library card. It isn’t much to ask for to get to read all the books you want for free.

This lady not only took it in stride, she helped her son with it. He was distraught that he couldn’t get these books. He was sobbing, and his voice was going up in pitch and volume. In his mind, we were stealing from him. Some parents have not known how to deal with this strong emotion from their children and turn it back on the staff. Some have actually spun on us and said “you tell my daughter why she can’t have her books”. This is bad parenting.

We are strongly discouraged at work from saying what we want to say. Sometimes we are provided scripts for tricky situations. This is not one of those that we have a script for. I’m pointing out the ways this interaction has gone wrong in the past to illustrate how surprising this one was.

This mom picked up her son and hugged him. She patted him on the back. She made consoling sounds. And she totally took the blame. She realized that she should have checked about getting a card before she got the books with him. And she let him cry it out. She didn’t distract him. She let him have his emotion.

We are not comfortable with strong feelings. We are so afraid of them in ourselves and in others that we often try to cover them up or run right through them.

Breathe through them. Let them happen. If you push them down or shove them aside they will resurface in uglier ways, with terrible faces. Resentment becomes alcoholism. Being abused becomes incessant pain, stomach upset, or road rage. Feeling left out or ignored produces a bully.

It is ok to not get your way all the time. It is the mark of a well adjusted person who can handle that. It isn’t the feelings that are the problem. It is what you do with them. We’ve either forgotten that, or we never learned it. We want to push through the bad feeling straight to the good feeling. We shortchange our growth when we do this. Our society teaches quick fixes and instant gratification. Nothing good comes of this. There is no abiding sense of satisfaction that comes from this.

I remember once I’d spent the day hiking the dry riverbed at Fall Creek Falls state park with a friend. It was a bear of a hike. What would have been a 6 mile hike was more like 11 because it wasn’t a straight path what with climbing up and down the boulders in the riverbed. We were sore. We were exhausted. We hadn’t quite prepared for this.

When we finally got to the end, we went to the restaurant and had a fine meal. We were surrounded by people who had just driven there. We’d spent the day hiking, and they’d spent the day driving.

I have a strong suspicion that we appreciated our meal more.

The same is true with maturity. It takes the long path, and a lot of hard work. There are no shortcuts. And part of getting there is pain. But pain can be transformative. It can be alchemical. Work with it, and through it, and because of it. You’ll savor life more. Sure it hurts. But as Carl Jung says “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.”

Control (dig out the roots)

Much of our pain and problems come from a need to control. We want to control the future. We want to control our friends, coworkers, and family. We are sure if they just did things our way they would be happier.

At the core of it, what we hate is what we define as evil. We think whatever it is that we are against is wrong. We are afraid. Fear is a lot of this. Ignorance is a lot of fear.

What is evil for one is no problem for another. We want to save them. We want to protect them. We do it out of love, in our eyes.

Don’t fight evil. That is what it wants. Love it. Love is the answer. Really.

Love it by learning about it. Why do you hate it? Who taught you to hate it?

I’m thinking out loud here. I’m approaching this from both perspectives. I’m looking at it from the perspective of the person giving and the person receiving.

It is all connected.

When you come across someone who is controlling, see through the person’s reaction to their fear, their loss, their neediness. Their mess.

Do the same with your own need to control.

Dig down deep and find the root of it. If you feel fear or shame about something, instead of feeling those feelings, try to feel curiosity. Get curious about where this came from. Who gave that feeling to you? Many feelings are taught to us. We are taught to be ashamed of our bodies. We are taught to think that we are greater than or lesser than another. We are taught to be open or close-minded.

If this is an unpleasant feeling, one that isn’t productive, dig down. Don’t turn away from it. Uproot it. Bring it out into the light.

Who first gave you that feeling? Who first taught you to feel that feeling? Where were you? What was the circumstance? What was going on?

Then go deeper. Who taught that person? Then who taught them?

There can be many generations of this line, this rope that we hold on to. This rope that we use to define ourselves. This is how we in this family act. “Don’t shame us. Don’t embarrass the family name.” We are exhorted to not let go of this rope that holds us together. We all have to stay together, you know, or we’ll get lost.

But this rope can also be a noose, a lariat, a line that prevents growth.

Someone is trying to plant seeds of fear or shame into you. Don’t let it bloom into an ugly tree. Don’t give it a space.

There are many things that they will try to plant. They will try to plant seeds of doubt and fear. These seeds are the fruits from trees that have matured in them. They aren’t even aware that they have these misshapen trees growing inside them. They have had them so long that they think this way of thinking is normal.

How about these seeds? Have you been given these? These seeds of fear and doubt and ignorance are common. It is healing to see them out in the daylight. It is hard to look at them – but that is the root of healing. So here we go –

Don’t date somebody outside of your race. Don’t read holy books from other faith traditions. Don’t have gay friends. You are fat. You are lazy. You are ugly. You need to get a better job. You need to support your parents when they get old, even if they are abusive.

Wow. That Is a hard bit to digest.

We are told to “be a good girl/boy”. “Good” is often defined as obedient and submissive. This keeps the status quo. This keeps them happy, but you stunted.

Drop the stories. Drop the seeds. Don’t take them into yourself.

Grow into the light. Protect yourself from this poison. Their fear doesn’t have to be your fear.

Sometimes our pain and problems are given to us by others, but we
don’t have to take them.

Our minds are our biggest hang ups. See your mind as a sense organ. Like your eyes or ears it is limited and faulty. It is not able to relay all information.

Dig deeper. Learn more about the situation. Learn why. Why can’t I have friends of other faiths, other traditions, other ways o living? Is there something to be afraid of?

Is there something that you are being sold? Is there something that they were sold that they are now trying to give you?

Would you eat something without checking the ingredients? What if it is all calories and carbs and fat, and no vitamins or minerals? The same is true of ideas. Test them out. Are they helpful? Are they true?

Hat. (This being human is messy)

There is a guy I know who drives a hover round. It is essentially his everyday car. He is too disabled to drive his truck, but he does it anyway in the winter or when it is raining.

It is summer now and it is very hot. I saw him today when I went to the post office. He was riding around with shorts, in a short sleeved shirt, and no hat. I thought about giving him my hat. I can get another.

He isn’t well off. He’s nearly died a number of times. His ex wife just died, and he is mourning her terribly. He’s been homeless before, for at least two years. His living conditions aren’t ideal, but they are better than a shelter. He’s a veteran. He lives on Social Security.

So I feel sorry for him. But then I remember his tales of going to Tunica, Mississippi and gambling. I remember how he’s constantly buying lottery tickets. I remember that his wife divorced him because he was cheating on her.

He’s made some bad choices.

He has chosen to spend his money on gambling rather than a hat. He was homeless because he chose to cheat on his wife. He is retired from the military and has chosen not to seek aid from them.

I dislike the term “enabling”. It really should be “disabling”.

To assist someone in their addiction is not loving. I’ve called it “aiding and abetting a sin.”

I know other people who are getting older and have some chronic health issues that are getting worse. They moved to be closer to their children. One of their children suggested that they move into a condo or an apartment so they wouldn’t have to worry about yard work or maintenance on a house. They ignored this advice and bought a house. Now they call their children to come take care of the yard work and the house maintenance. They have both become infirm, and this situation will only get worse the older they get.

I feel that they have made a bad choice and that they are abusing their children by asking them to rescue them from a preventable problem.

I’m very frustrated. I want to help people, but I want to do it in a way that really helps, instead of keeping them in the same old ruts. I want to prevent problems rather than treat them. I don’t want to cure anything. I want to stop problems from happening.

I’m frustrated when someone gets surprised that they have lung cancer after smoking two packs of cigarettes a day for twenty years. This is how my Mom died. It was sad that she died at 53, but not tragic. She did it to herself. It wasn’t an accident. She knew that what she was doing was harmful but didn’t quit.

I took care of her after her diagnosis. I drove her to her chemotherapy and radiation therapy. I cooked. I cleaned. I watched her die, bit by bit, piece by piece, day by day.

That takes a lot out of you, to watch someone die from making bad choices. It takes a lot out to see their pain and regret and fear and know that you can’t rescue them. She put herself in that hole, and because of it she put herself in her grave.

It is Christ-like to help others without question. Jesus didn’t ask people if they created their own problems. He didn’t say to the lepers – why didn’t you stay away from lepers? You knew it was contagious.

I’m finding it hard to be Christ-like. I can’t just touch them and they are healed. We humans heal people in slow motion. We have to get involved. We have to get into it up to our arms. It is messy work, this business of healing.

I wrestle with it. Am I healing someone to make it easy for them to continue to make bad choices? Why should I wake up every day and go to work just to give someone else money when they refuse to look for work?

This isn’t very nice, but it is honest. This isn’t very Christ-like, but it is human.

All the child rearing books say there have to be repercussions to bad decisions. If you let them get away with it, you are encouraging it. They advocate tough love.

“Difficult Conversations” tells you how to speak up, so you can navigate the balance between not being a doormat or a tyrant. “Boundaries” says that Christians are taught to sacrifice their own needs and wants to take care of others, and that this isn’t healthy for either person. “Codependent No More” says something similar but it doesn’t go into the issue of Christian guilt.

Somehow this sounds like an excuse to ignore someone else’s pain. But then it is important to encourage them to stand on their own. If someone has to lean on you all the time, you aren’t helping them grow as a person. And you will find you are not growing either.

This being human is messy.

I think it is lucky for Jesus that he died at 32. He didn’t have so many issues to deal with. He never had to juggle work and aging parents. He never had to deal with his own chronic health problems. He didn’t have a history of being abused by his family.

It is hard to follow Jesus, and it is messy. We don’t do it right even half of the time. But when we figure out the balance it is beautiful and amazing. I’ve given up the church but I’ve not given up on Jesus. I don’t understand the Way but I feel it is a good path.

I fall, and I get up. I get distracted. I run away, just like Jonah. And yet I’m still on the path, all along. I think this is part of what it means to hear the call, and to follow Jesus. I want to do it right, and I know I’m not going to.

This is like exercise, like training for a marathon. But I’ll never get there because of the nature of the path. That is the price of being human.